Temptations Videos -
A Review of The Temptations

Temptations video

Directed by Allan Arkush, 1998

If you're willing to settle for recreations instead of authentic Temptations videos from the '60s and '70s, then this miniseries should make you happy.

Not that this NBC event aims low.

Before starting this website, I borrowed the Temptations video from the library, hoping for something generally entertaining about a music genre I liked.

I had no idea how much I would adore this movie.

Let's get the criticisms out of the way. Otis Williams's Temptations biography formed the basis of the miniseries. So naturally, Otis the character comes off very well. His status as the group's glue smothers his flaws and vices. Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and especially David Ruffin supporters may take offense at those singers' less flattering angles.

Certain scenes didn't occur in real life, such as Berry Gordy's "introduction" to Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams at the same time. But this is a dramatization of events, so the fabrications shouldn't shock anyone. The writers do get thumbs up for sidestepping treacle and keeping the melodrama earthbound.

If classic Temptations videos had any of the miniseries' visual oomph, then my generation really missed out! The compelling choreography (like during "(I Know) I'm Losing You") and rainbow of costumes burst brilliantly from the screen.

More cinematically, the simple, clear, swooping camerawork gives viewers a front row seat whenever the Motown singers do their thing. The opening scene arouses, the "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" montage rivets, and the closing stirs the heart ever more thanks to the confident direction.

Then there's the acting. If you know the actual Temptations songs, then you'll be able to tell when the actors are lip-synching. When they aren't, they manage fine vocal impersonations, particularly Terron Brooks as Kendricks and Leon as Ruffin.

Which brings us to the dramatic performances. Regardless of how fairly their characters are written, the actors realize them fully. Aside from a sly Brooks and an explosive Leon, Christian Payton stands out as poor Paul Williams. Charles Malik Whitfield and D.B. Woodside are absolutely solid as pals Otis and Melvin.

No slouches in the supporting cast, either. Franklin and Williams's "moms" are appealingly realistic. "Smokey Robinson" and "Berry Gordy" feel like more than cameo roles.

Last thing about the acting: Listen to the overlapping comments as the Siberians climb out a window. Watch Al Bryant's body language during a dance rehearsal with Cholly Atkins. Watch Eddie Kendricks's face during David Ruffin's big surprise (you'll know which).

Nothing special? Exactly. There are many subtle reactions that are easy to miss but which add a lot to the characterizations. It's just another reason that I find this Temptations video exceedingly watchable. (Watchability probably goes up in a crisper DVD format.)

Whoever decided to cut scenes for the broadcast-to-home transfer, however, deserves hisses. I realized what I was missing when I accidentally saw the program on VH1. David's dark side with Tammi Terrell. His "You're My Everything" duet with a solo Eddie. Paul's drunken "For Once in My Life." Group interactions before momentous decisions. And more. Gone!

These weren't just trims or absent shots. They were elaborate, emotionally intense scenes that deepened the characters and smoothened the narrative. If you watch the video or disc, know that there's more good stuff you aren't getting. Perhaps another case of economics compromising art.

That said, as Arkush's historical/cultural vision and a spectacular showcase for over a dozen hit songs, The Temptations scores.

To broaden your scope from Temptations videos to other Motown videos and DVDs, click here for my main reviews page.

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